Why is Religion Harmful in Politics? A case study
Many people say that atheists spend far too much time worrying about what others believe, and tell atheists that people should be able to believe whatever they want as long as it does no harm to anyone. To a point this is true; The only harm passive belief (i.e. belief in a god that made the universe without preaching) does is deny the believer certain facts, and clouds the reasoning process. Passive belief only affects the believer, and to this end, only stands to affect the believer.
But for most, religious belief has a bigger effect on their lives than a simple quiet belief in a deity. It changes the way they look at the universe, and therefore changes the decisions they make about how to live their lives. A simple example, and the biggest drawcard of the Abrahamic religions, is the idea of afterlife; This life is just a dressed rehearsal, and in some ways, an audition, for the bigger “main event” up in the sky. It’s easy to see how the belief in afterlife means that you view the life you have here on earth with a somewhat diluted sense of importance and urgency. While this was invented as the big drawcard for belief, and is upheld by a systematic reinforcement of the idea of “taking your best chances” (Pascal’s Wager), there is no evidence that this is the case, and only serves to do 2 things: 1. bolster the importance of religion in a person’s life, and 2. make a person feel less anxious about the mortality of others and their own. It’s easy to live and die in the name of an idea if you’re guaranteed a second chance at it all, only better, after you die.
So leaving aside all the atrocities to humankind in the name of religion and cultural reinforcement of these ideals, the harm of belief can manifest itself in an insidious undercurrent that stifles the urgency of the life we have here on earth, the only life we get. When this undercurrent is extended beyond the individual, and into the decision-making processes involved in governmental policies, what we get are decisions that have little or no long-term outlooks, and focus very strongly on the present with little regard for future eventualities.
Take, for instance, the worldwide phenomena of conservative politics. What we see here in Australia is that much of the policy-making and political focus is on the bolstering of big business and a push of a laissez-faire business model, where businesses are allowed to continue to mine and produce with no interference from government, excepting for subsidies and governmental backing. While on the surface this may seem purely economical, the turning of a blind eye to the damage that things like coal production and forestry may have is deeply seated in a sense of belief, that any damage done in the name of progress is justified because of the claims of the bible, specifically the parts in Genesis which state “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Gen 9:3), “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground,’”(Gen 1:26) and “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Gen 1:29).
To the non-religious, this may just seem like part of the whole bible myth, and nothing to worry about, but these passages (especially Gen 1:26) form much of the foundation for the kinds of rapacious destruction we see in Australia’s environmental policy-making currently. It is well known that Mr Abbott is a staunch biblical believer. Before his tenure as a politician he spent much time studying in a seminary with sights set to become a priest of some description, and has since earned the well-deserved ad-hominem title of “The Mad Monk” for this. And while he hides his political decision-making behind the mantle of “economy”, his decisions are much more transparent than they may seem.
Let me just put this in context for you. A non-believer in the same position may make the same decisions, but their decisions would be firmly grounded in political and economic ideology. Reasons for these decisions are complex, and I acknowledge that there are some aspects of the current government policy making that stand in pure politics (economical rationalism and international polity), but when these decisions are based upon the idea that the earth is simply a useful tool, a larder to raid when pickings are threatening to get thin, AND all this is backed by your deity, then we run into problems. The decisions based around Abbot Point in Queensland, the old-growth forests in Tasmania, and even to some degree the backing of the shark cull in Western Australia, can all be attributed to a “god-given” sense of the importance of humans on earth, and the “usefulness” of the planet’s resources.
The tokenistic gesture of “direct action” on climate change, one touted to cost more to the country than the “price on carbon” ever would, is nothing more than a rouse designed to feign the illusion of taking action. A man who denies that climate change is taking place, yet takes “direct action” to help curb it, is a man you cannot trust. Again, it’s Abbott’s faith in god that allows him to make such decisions, and ignore the cognitive dissonance that such a position holds with it.
Mr Abbott is also a well known “family conservative”. His views on a woman’s role in the household, reproductive health and the rights of LGBTI people com straight from the pages of Leviticus, cherry-picked to suit his own agenda around morality and women. As self-appointed “Minister for Women”, his outdated biblical views are seen in his push for incentives for reproduction, a worry in a time when global population increases may spell calamity for the world.
It is true that the Abbott government, and their 3 word catchphrases, pander to the emotive sound-byte political climate of our time. Decisions and rhetoric all depend directly upon the phenomena of an under-informed public, and using this to their advantage. It’s short-sighted, to say the least, but worse, it satisfies people into believing things they don’t know, and makes it seem as though the facts are too complex for us to understand. Abbott is playing a game here, and one where the only winners are big-business and the already rich. He’s a smart man, a Rhodes scholar, but one without a sense of duty to the people, the country, and the planet. I’m not saying that all these political decisions, particularly with regard to the environment and women’s rights, are the direct result of Tony Abbott’s faith, but it certainly does take away from the guilt and the weight of the decisions when the person making these decisions doesn’t have to answer to the people that it affects. It’s much easier to make decisions of this nature when the only entity you believe you have to answer to is your deity.